Are you thinking of taking a trip up to Crater Lake National Park this summer? Are you wanting to escape the heat of the Rogue Valley to bask in some cool mountain air? As you probably already know, Crater Lake National Park is an 80-mile drive from Jacksonville—about an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive, depending on summer traffic. So close—so beautiful. I am fortunate enough to have worked many summers at the Park, watching my children move from diapers towards diplomas, from scootering down to the Visitors Center with Daddy to riding bikes there on their own. The following are a few tips if you are thinking of visiting Oregon’s only National Park this summer.
This year, Crater Lake National Park received a total of 48 feet of snow—several feet above average! This means you may have some snow to enjoy well into August. It also means that some trails and sections of road may take time to be cleared of snow, so, if there is a particular trail you wanted to hike, or a boat ride you wanted to take, be sure to check their website for updated information before you plan your trip. There are also webcams that you can access online to see current conditions at the south entrance, at the Visitor Center, and at the lake itself.
If you are interested in a guided tour inside the Park, there are three great options. One is to reserve a seat on a boat tour of the lake. A limited number of boat tour tickets can be ordered ahead online, with the remaining seats available for purchase beginning 24 hours in advance from kiosks located within the Park. While it is a thrill to cruise in a boat atop a pristine lake, it is a strenuous hike coming back up to the parking area after the hike. As we say in the Park Service, “It is one mile down (to the lake), and seven miles back,” because that’s what it feels like. Seven. Be prepared for steep switchbacks with the sun beating down on you for half of the hike—be sure you feel up to that task, and, as always, bring plenty of water and food. A less-exerting but equally-interesting option is a ranger-guided trolley ride around Rim Drive, stopping at points of interest along the way. A third option is to look for posted guided hikes and ranger talks for the day that you are there.
This is year three of a major road reparation/reconstruction project to shore up sections of the popular “Rim Drive,” which has been showing its age. If you’ve ever driven Rim Drive, you may have noticed how steep and narrow sections of road are. The main focus in 2017 will be to repave and partially regrade Rim Drive West from Watchman Trailhead Parking a few miles south towards its junction with Munson Valley Road (the entrance road) and to finish the expanded parking lot at Cleetwood Cove—the only trailhead that will lead you to the lake shore. Expect some delays on West Rim Drive, so make sure to plan accordingly if you have, for example, a boat tour reservation to meet. Remember, you can always take East Rim Drive instead, with its spectacular views; It is a longer stretch of road, so allow a little more time in that direction for the drive.
A new activity begins this year near the Visitor Center. This will be year one of a bird banding project where birds will be tracked to better understand songbird populations in the Park. Visitors are invited to watch, though, as it won’t happen every day, you may want to call ahead to check the bird banding schedule.
If you decide to make the trip up to the Park, remember that entry is often quicker in the mornings, especially before 10:00am or later in the afternoon, closer to dinnertime. Do stop and say hello if you see me collecting plant seed along Rim Drive during the day or if you hear old-time music being played on a porch in the early evening, feel free to add your voice to our family chorus.
Kate Williams has been a seasonal botany ranger at Crater Lake National Park for more than a decade. Prior to that, she worked at several other National Parks, including Sequoia/ Kings Canyon, Lassen and Redwood. When not “rangering,” Kate lives in Jacksonville with her husband and two children.
Photo of Crater Lake by Kate Williams.